I downloaded a periodic table app which gives detailed information for each element. The app shows some elements, however, have two different oxidation states. Hydrogen, for instance, can have either a 1+ or 1- state. What do these two states signify? Why do these elements have more than one oxidation state?

Can someone explain this?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It means simply that the elements in question can have various charges, or oxidation numbers, when they are components of different molecules. Hydrogen is usually a +1, but in some cases (sodium hydride, or $\ce{NaH}$, for instance), it's a -1. See this Wikipedia page for some illumination and specific examples. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ What's to explain? Some atoms (arguably, most of them) may exist in different oxidation states depending on how you treat them, much like some men may work at different jobs. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ So when an elements denotes 1+/1- should I conclude that the element is predominately 1+ charge? Does that order show predominately charges first and less occurring charges secondary? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/34106/… $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 0:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Except for helium and neon, multiple oxidation states are known for any elements. And for all other elements except for fluorine and argon, these different oxidation states can even feature different signs (although I’m not entirely sure all have been proven for the all of the others). $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 20:49

3 Answers 3


The oxidation state of an element in a compound is simply decided on the basis of electronegativity of other atoms. As the definition of oxidation state says

Oxidation state of an element in a given compound is the charged acquired by its atom on the basis of electronegativity of other atoms in the compound.

The basis of calculating oxidation number is that the more electronegative element acquires the negative charge and the less electronegative one acquires the positive charge. So in molecules in which hydrogen is less electronegetive it acquires a $+1$ charge while in molecules in which it is more electronegetive it will acquire a $+1$ charge ($1$ because it has the valency of $1$ and usually oxidation number does not exceed valency).

Let's understand it with the help of examples:
In the $\ce{HCl}$ molecule, $\ce{H}$ is less electronegetive that's why charge of $+1$,for the same reason,$+1$ in $\ce{H2O}$. In the compound $\ce{ZnH2}$, hydrogen is more electronegetive so it will have a charge of $-1$, for similar reason $-1$ in $\ce{NaH}$.

Usually metals (that make metal hydrides) are less electronegetive than hydrogen, That's why we also say hydrogen has an oxidation state of $-1$ in metal hydrides.


You see compounds like HCl in which the hydrogen is +1, and then there are compounds like NaH, where the hydrogen is -1.


The oxidation state, often called the oxidation number, is an indicator of the degree of oxidation (loss of electrons) of an atom in a chemical compound. Conceptually, the oxidation state, which may be positive, negative or zero, is the hypothetical charge that an atom would have if all bonds to atoms of different elements were $100 \% $ ionic, with no covalent component. This is never exactly true for real bonds.

So an atom can gain $1,2,3$ or more electrons and also lose $1,2,3$ or more electrons thereby causing it to gain a certain degree of oxidation or reduction. This explains why an element can have multiple oxidation states.

Read More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxidation_state


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